Female filmmakers are rarely afforded the opportunity to have the kind of long, varied careers that are seemingly awarded to even their most mediocre male peers, but Allison Anders has defied the odds at every turn. She's been writing and directing independent films, studio pictures, and television episodes for more than 30 years, with credits including Mi Vida Loca, Grace of My Heart, the Peabody Award–winning Things Behind the Sun, and, most recently, a remake of the 1988 film Beaches.
In the 1980s and 1990s, in the midst of raising her three children as a single mother, Allison became one of the premiere voices in the American new wave of independent filmmakers. But since 2008, she's also been behind Don't Knock the Rock, a music documentary film festival in Los Angeles, which she created with her eldest daughter, musician and music supervisor Tiffany Anders. Together, they champion under-the-radar artists whose work you might not see anywhere else.
Like her mom, Tiffany Anders is a renaissance woman in the worlds of film and music. As a musician, Anders released two critically acclaimed albums, including 2001's Funny Happy Cry Gift, which was produced by singer-songwriter PJ Harvey. These days, you can hear Tiffany's song selections on shows like You're the Worst and Making History; she's also been director James Ponsoldt's go-to music supervisor since their first collaboration, on Smashed in 2012.
The mother-daughter duo occupies a unique position in the film and music industries. In bringing their passions to a wide range of audiences, each has managed never to lose sight of her voice as a female creator. The three of us sat down together to talk about inherent industry sexism, the lack of female heroines for young women, and the value of mentorship in the arts.
Kate Hagen: I saw you guys at the Cinefamily theater in L.A. presenting Border Radio a couple of years ago. Tiffany, you were talking about sleeping in the editing room as a kid during the making of that film. Allison, do you think it's easier to be a mother working in the film industry now, or when it was more independent and there were fewer rules about what was acceptable?
Allison Anders: I'd say it was easier to be a single mom back then, because nowadays, I think you really have to be more present and less selfish with your children than I was. We would do things that you would never dream of doing as parents now, like editing at night and going, "We'll take the sleeping bags and they'll just sleep on the editing-room floor and we'll take them out for breakfast in the morning and send them to school."
KH: For both of you, the sonic component of film, especially when it comes to soundtracking, is paramount. Allison, do you start with a song, or do you start with a script when you begin each new film project?
AA: I always make a playlist as I'm writing. Music is really important to me. I do get attached to certain songs. Tiffany can really speak to this with other directors, as well; this is one of the many reasons why she's such a great music supervisor — she knows that when a director is attached to a song, it's not bullshit. She's really able to respect that and pry that song out of your hands, replacing it without making you feel like you're being a ridiculous idiot.
Tiffany Anders: I very much approach being a music supervisor in the way that I do because of my mom — figuring out how to work with a director to enable their vision. Music is so subjective to different people. Nobody's going to be like, "Come on in and paint my movie with whatever you want!" So for me, what I like about the job is working with the director, starting with something that they had in mind. James Ponsoldt had a playlist when he sent me Smashed, and about two or three of those songs ended up in the movie. But, you can also introduce them to new things that they don't know about that they're amazed you're able to find.